This past weekend Saturday Night Live ran the following instalment of a recurring sketch called "Black Jeopardy", featuring Tom Hanks as a Donald Trump supporter "Doug". Jeopardy is a long standing game show in the US where contestants are fed an answer and have to come up with the specific question. In the comedy sketch host Darnel Hayes, played by Keenan Thompson, asks contestants trivia questions as opined by African American stereotypes. The sketch frequently highlights what white people don't necessarily know about black Americans. As an ongoing skit (ugh) it is awkward, racially charged and never not hilarious.
But here SNL has outdone itself. It harks back to the show's glory days and in this instalment has delivered such a beautiful and poetic satire of the modern political climate it is on a par with the final crucifixion scene of Life of Brian. It's that damn good and it made me laugh 'til I cried.
The premise is simple enough: at first as Hanks' Doug looks suitably out of place when fed answers that reflect black american stereotypes. But then to the host and contestants surprise Doug does unfeasibly well in the quiz. When delivered the answer: "They out here sayin' "The new iPhone wants your thumbprint for your "protection"
Doug responds "What is, "uh I don't think so, that's how they get ya"?"
"Yes! Yes!" the host replies ecstatically and the audience clicks immediately.
Later Doug selects as his category "Big girls for $600"
Darnell provides the cryptic answer: "Big girls can do this for you"
Hanks responds in a thick Southern drawl: "What is "Not a damn thing""
The host and other contestants let out elated, "You a'ight Doug"'s and high fives abound.
The participants continue to bond with Doug as they increasingly discover the working classes of the US have more and more in common irrespective of race. Now before we start flapping "Not all black people are working class" no they're not. But almost everyone on Jeopardy is. So just chill, we're going somewhere with this. Breathe, relax and remember this is a comedy skit (blechhh, I hate that word but I'm running out of ways to say "sketch").
After Doug admits of Tyler Perry movies, "I got the box set at Wal-mart and let me tell you something if I can laugh and pray for ninety minutes well that is money well spent", visibly moved Darnell crosses the stage to shake Doug's hand. Doug backs away in fear thinking the host is about to attack him. It kills. I mean kills in a way that only comedy with a sting in it's tail can.
The subtext is glaringly obvious, delivered with a gut-punch. The sketch has gone viral accordingly and will continue to do so no doubt. And yes, it uses racial stereotypes and is deliciously politically incorrect. Not Donald Trump politically incorrect i.e. flat out racist lies. But more so, non-PC grains of truth with the volume turned up. Or as it's better known: comedy.
Contrary to popular belief this is what racial comedy can do. When done right, it can deliver cathartic laughs and act as a scalpel on a dance, disinfectant on a toxic wound. Here in the UK I know full well racial humour was usually jettisoned to white men in dickie bows, in all white rooms calling black people "darkies". But if comedy can sink to such depths, it by definition, must be able to rise above too.
And here it has, even in the youtube comments thread - normally a cesspit of anonymous racial hatred and homophobia, the responses are uncharacteristically civil and positive. Even in the safety of anonymity, the majority of the comments are along the lines of "Couldn't we all get along?" People are actually "getting it" and in a way that no other art form could. Through laughing their arses off, even the trolls seem to be taking one thing away from this: we have more in common than we think, and maybe if we started there, we might actually get somewhere. Obviously any viral video on youtube is always a countdown to a barrage of N-bombs, F- bombs and people calling each other Hitler.
But for now let's enjoy this moment and leave things where the sketch did - As the final category reads: "Lives that matter" Darnell says to Hanks, "Well it was good while it lasted Doug"
Brendon is currently touring his latest stand up show - "Black Comedian" across the UK. Jews, blacks, gays, Asians and whites are all welcome
One can also check out his racially charged podcast "Dumb White Guy" every Sunday morning on iTunes